Until she participated in the Summer Research Scholars Program, Madaline Hoffman, senior health studies and pre-physical therapy major, did not realize she could pair her passion for gymnastics and competitive cheerleading with academics and potentially, her future career.
“When I was younger I did gymnastics and then I switched over to competitive cheerleading,” said Hoffman. “I was competing at different gymnastics and cheerleading functions and I always noticed the differences in the floors and how it affected me, so I wondered why they were so different.”
Mentored by Ed Nyman Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of health and human performance, Hoffman researched the mechanical performance of gymnastics spring floor components and the associated impact on athletes. The research topic was a perfect fit as Nyman and Hoffman shared a unique connection to the sport of gymnastics.
For Nyman, his connection with the sport spans decades. He is a contributor to education in the sport of gymnastics at some of the highest levels and serves as a regular clinician at the state, regional and national level at USA Gymnastics events. In addition, his wife owns a gymnastics gym.
Nyman’s association with gymnastics also brought several connections with spring floor manufacturers to the table, which allowed Hoffman and Nyman to test 15 spring floor configurations, including those used for the men’s and women’s gymnastics Olympic Trials.
“A number of these flooring systems were the same as used in the past World Championship and Olympics, including 2016 in Rio,” said Nyman. “The results may help inform the development of the flooring used in the next 2020 Olympic Games.”
Hoffman explained that spring floor technology has led to amplified elastic behavior, which corresponds with increased tumbling heights and skill difficulty. This can lead to potential injuries in take-offs and landings. While spring floor designs attempt to soften landings for athletes, optimal performance requires a balance between force mitigation and energy.
“For the first part we did a mechanical floor testing where we tested the floors in the lab with the force plate and an impactor that Dr. Nyman built,” Hoffman explained. “We measured a variety of variables and looked for the differences in performance.”
With Nyman’s custom-built impactor system, they were able to simulate an athlete’s interaction with the spring floors which determined significant differences in floor system manufacturers and designs.
“Interestingly, there were fairly substantial practical differences in the performance of different types and different manufacturer’s flooring systems from a mechanical characteristics standpoint,” said Nyman. “Some mechanical characteristics were highly correlated with
performance metrics that might help us predict the ideal interaction or ‘sweet spot’ between optimum performance and force mitigation.”
In the second phase of Hoffman’s research, she tested human subjects with a background in gymnastics with a 3D motion capture system and force plates. However, the results showed no significant differences in the floor configurations which was believed to be due to the size of the floor samples that made it difficult for the human subjects to do different jumps and landings.
“This work is really starting to turn heads in the gymnastics community,” Nyman said. Hoffman and Nyman plan to continue their research by obtaining larger sample sizes from manufacturers and will be looking into getting the research published.
Hoffman started gymnastics when she was four years old and coaches gymnastics throughout Ohio now. As she gears up for her first year in the University of Findlay’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, she is excited to know that she will be able to continue her passion for gymnastics after college.
“I have always been interested in a career in physical therapy and imagined myself specializing in pediatrics. This research made me realize my strong interest in the orthopedic and sport side of the profession,” Hoffman said. “I started looking at different opportunities available after PT school and discovered that it is possible to incorporate my love for the sport of gymnastics into my future career. This opportunity really opened up my horizons to what I can do after college.”
For more information about the Summer Research Scholars Program, contact Dr. Edward Nyman Jr. at 419-434-5969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.